Ramblings on Lions and Jihadists

By Sean Molina

The blue arc of his GMT glowed bright, a stark contrast to his sun-worn skin. With just a glance, the watch seemed new, its steel bracelet still taut with pristine brush strokes thin as hair. The Batman bezel held an unscathed crystal, and he held one permanent expression. Years spent in the Sahara etched crow’s feet into his weathered face, and his jawline was a testament to a life spent shouting at jarheads. His eyes didn’t waiver and his demeanor exuded serenity. If ever there was a thousand-yard stare, it lived within his gaze.

“They don’t care about lions,” he said matter-of-factly, his voice clear and unassuming. A multicultural accent betrayed his upbringing as a third culture baby who joined the military. Today, he was retired and committed to Mozambique.

The mercenary spoke of jihadist fighters who were infiltrating the region, trying to indoctrinate the locals. But the lions of the jungle did not fear them and ambushed them at every turn. “The extremists are scared and going ape shit,” he said, explaining the gunfire echoing through the jungle over the past few days. It was the exact reason we were on the safari—except, I wasn’t sure what or who we were hunting. I was just along for the ride in a white two door 70 series with a wobbly side mirror that spoke true of the Land Cruiser.

“The locals don’t care. They’d rather see all of them dead.”

I didn’t want to ask but I think he was referring to the lions and the extremists.

“But we can’t kill all of them. Then we’d have no jungles. Plus, I have no idea what those bastards are shooting.”

It was clear this man was born to protect. I just didn’t understand why he was so committed to the wild in Africa. He had a stellar reputation for putting an end to man eaters—jaguars, crocodiles, and, of course, lions. He had an obsession about keeping nature pure. Whether it was the art of hunting, catching poachers, or keeping terrorism out of his jungle; he fixated on protecting it.

In the West, it was different. The ones that cared for lions, never saw one in the wild. They sure as hell didn’t drive to the jungle to protect them from terrorists. In fact, the West never cared. They only cared for lions when a tourist attraction died or if a research subject was killed.

They’d work up the courage to step outside of their condo and yell at strangers in the street. They were brave enough to change their profile pic and include Cecil’s hashtag on every post. They prepared arguments and enthusiastically recited them at each other’s cocktail parties. And, of course, Jimmy took the cake when he selflessly shed a tear on national television. They were prosthetic Saints caressing each other’s virtue. The truth was they didn’t care about lions.

They were influenced by the charisma of Simba but had never experienced the majesty of a lion in the wild. They had no appreciation for the intricate balance of nature or the complex issues facing conservation efforts in Africa. They wanted to appear virtuous and gain social capital by showcasing their concern for a trendy cause.

To care is to sacrifice for something you love. It’s the unequivocal instinct to protect with the courage to act. The mercenary and a small minority cared. They traded with locals, gave meat to villages, removed threats, and honored the culture. To most, they were mercenaries, trophy hunters, or just plain adventurers. Everybody missed the details, though. These ‘adventurers’ were xenophiles with a passion for exotics who just happened to master the science behind ballistics. If they weren’t telling stories they were making them.

And that’s when it made sense. I didn’t need to understand the mercenary, nor did I need to ask. His actions silenced the West. His life stood the test of time and amounted to far more than an old hashtag. He wasn’t alone, though. The thrill seekers were to follow suit. Beyond his time, more would lead— exploring the uncharted, pursuing big game, scaring terrorists, and making Jimmy cry.